It’s Saturday afternoon and pupils from a primary school in Lagos, Nigeria, have travelled with their teacher to the Badagry Heritage Museum to learn about the transatlantic slave trade.
“We wanted to see how people were enslaved in those days,” teacher Temilade Akinola tells RFI’s Africa Calling, as the tour winds up at the Badagry Heritage Museum.
“We wanted to feel what their pains were, see the shackles, see the things they went through for us to understand our heritage.”
According modernghana.com, Badagry, a border town between Nigeria and Benin, became a thriving slave port in west Africa when European merchants bought and shipped human labour to work on plantations in America.
Visitors to Badagry will find the history of that trade in the Badagry Heritage Museum, which contains collections on the slave trade between Africa, Europe and America.
“We are trying to use the trip to the museum to improve the pupils’ learning ability,” Akinola says of the trip.
“So seeing first hand these things that we have been seeing in our books, and what people actually went through, it goes a long way to help them understand what they have been taught in class.”
Inside, Hundeyin Isiaka, a native of Badagry, acts as tour guide at a venue built in 1863 for administrative purposes to house the district officer.
It was converted into the museum in 2002 on the instructions of Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the governor of Lagos State.
“Badagry Heritage Museum is one of the best sites you have to visit when you talk about slavery,” Isiaka explains.
Not far away from the Badagry Heritage Museum, the Mobee Slave Relics Museum complements the journey into the past.
The privately owned museum is run by the descendants of the traditional ruler of Badagry.
400 years of history
On display are the original chains used on slaves during the days of trade.
“These chains were brought here by the white men in the 15th century,” says Prince Abiodun Mobee, a descendant of the royal family. “And all this environment around was used as a slave corridor.”
The grave of chief Sunbu Mobee lies in the plot. The traditional ruler of Badagry during the slave trade era died on 16 October, 1893.
Abiodun says that it was in 1886 during Chief Sunbu’s reign that slavery stopped in Badagry.
Towards the end of the 18th century, a movement emerged in Europe calling for an end to the slave trade and, later, slavery itself.
But while Britain – responsible for 50 percent of trade in enslaved Africans – backed the abolition of the slave trade, it did not apply to their colonies. Britain’s involvement in the slave trade formally ended in 1833.
Abiodun speaks about the significance of this area as Nigeria was an important colony for Britain.
“Each market day here in Badagry, 300 slaves were sold. Around 17,000 slaves were sold here annually here in Badagry.
“And this trade we are talking about lasted 400 years. So that tells us that Badagry slave port happens to be the largest slave port in west Africa.”
Down by the waterfront, several young people relax on makeshift wooden chairs while music blares out from a small loudspeaker.
Just in front of them, a man fans a fire in preparation for a barbecque. A few local hawkers add to the colour.
“But this place is wasted. The land is wasting,” Abiodun laments.
Abiodun, a tour operator himself, claims the former slave port is operating far below its potential.
He recounts how he once gave tours for celebrities like musician LL Cool and other tourists from America.
But he says a dearth of supporting infrastructure means guides like him find it difficult to earn enough money from tourism.
“If you get to some advanced countries, tourism is what they are using to boost themselves.
“We just need government assistance to put more into this kind of tourism so that we too here in Nigeria can have something to say.”
Abiodun is calling on government to renovate all the sites around slavery and tourism in Badagry to attract more visitors and give a boost to the local economy.
“Before Covid 19, a lot of people used to come to Badagry. We are just trying to get back to those levels now,” added Abiodun.